Is the wine connoisseur in you looking for a place to vacation where the art of wine making dates back to the time of the Roman Empire? Is the wine connoisseur in you arguing with the outdoor enthusiast in you, because the outdoor enthusiast wants a vacation destination which includes hiking along forested mountain trails, visiting the ruins of ancient castles, and enjoying sunny days exploring medieval towns?
Then how about choosing a vacation destination in Germany’s Palatine region (German: Pfalz), where both your wine connoisseur and your outdoor enthusiast will have more than enough to keep them happy! :-)
The Palatinate is located on the Upper Rhine plain, with the Rhine to its east, and Alsace, the Rheinhessen, and the Saarland to its west. Covering the Wasgau and Haardt hills is the Palatinate Forest, Europe’s largest. Your wine connoisseur will delight, as do the grapes grown there, in the temperate sun-drenched climate on the hills’ eastern slopes!
Those grapes are joined by orchard after orchard of fruit, chestnut, and almond trees, but the hundreds of vineyards encompassing 23,000 hectares / 57,000 acres of the Palatinate make it a wine lover’s Paradise. Your outdoor enthusiast will be pleased to know that it’s also German Wine Route country (Deutsche Weinstraße), ideal for hiking and cycling! The Wine Route runs on a south/north line along the base of the Haardt hills, beginning at Schweigen-Reichtenbach.
Along the way it passes the magnificent Burg Trifels, a castle outside of Annweiler, with unsurpassed views of both the Rhine plane in the Palatinate Forest. Legend has it that the Holy Grail was once kidnapped the Castle, which was also where Henry IV impression Richard the Lionheart after capturing him on his return from the Crusades in 1193.
About halfway along the Weinstraße lies Neustadt (Weinstraße). As you approach it you’ll see the Hambacher Schloss, in which more than 30,000 supporters of German democracy gathered in 1832 and raised the tri-colored flag which has now become Germany’s national emblem! Take time to visit Neustadt’s Aldstadt (old town), and heck, hit at least a few of the wine taverns! ;-)
You’ll be in the heart of Germany’s wine culture when you arrive at Bad Dürkheim, where the world’s largest wine festival — the Wurstmarkt und Weinfest — is held each September. In between nibbling the wurst and sipping the wine, refresh yourself at the Kurhaus, because Bad Dürkheim is also a spa.
Is your thirst for Palatinate history as great as your thirst for its wine? Then plan a stop in Speyer, where you can satisfy both to your heart’s content. Speyer, a.k.a. Spires, has one of Germany’s greatest Romanesque Cathedrals, the Speyer Cathedral, dating back to 1030 and now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Its founder, Kaiser Konrad II, is buried here along with seven other emperors and kings. On a lighter note, Speyer is credited with being the birthplace of the pretzel!
After your trip along the Wine Route, it’s time to enjoy the Palatinate’s other star attraction, the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzerwald). The mountains of the central Palatinate extend for 1800 sq km / 1118 sq mi, and three-quarters of those mountains are covered in forest. They have also been classified as a German Natural Reserve (Naturpark Pfälzerwald), and since 1992, as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The Natural Reserve is crisscrossed by nearly 7500 (!) miles of marked walking and cycling trails, so your outdoor enthusiast could literally spend a lifetime wandering from one breathtaking view or charming medieval village to the next!
Begin your visit at Pirmasens, just 1/3 of a mile (500 m) from the entrance to the Palatinate Forest Nature Reserve. You’ll learn exactly what sort of shoes to wear on your trek through the Forest, because Pirmasens is the capital of Germany’s footwear industry. Don’t head into the woods without stuffing your backpack with some chocolate from Pirmasen’s WAWI chocolate factory.
Notice the strange rock formations so typical of the Pfalz here. The forest’s red sandstone cliffs are a magnet for rock climbers from around the globe, and thousands of climbing tours are available for novices and experts alike.
Before you leave the Palatinate, find time to visit Zweibrücken. In this small town just 26 km / 16 miles west of Pirmasens are both the Rose Garden of Europe and some of the finest horses in Germany. For more than two-and-a-half centuries, Zweibrücken has given its name to the magnificent warm-blooded horses bred at the town’s state stud.
Whether your vacation tastes run to getting drunk on fine wine, or getting drunk on the pure forest air, or a bit of both, the Pfalz will satisfy them all!